Achieving ‘Zero Hunger’ by 2030 in doubt as Covid-19 undoing years of progress: UN

New Delhi (NVI): The COVID-19 pandemic could tip over 130 million more people into chronic hunger by the end of 2020 and flare-ups of acute hunger in the pandemic context may see this number escalate further at times, warns a new UN report.

More people are going hungry and the pandemic situation can worsen the situation by undoing years of progress in reducing poverty, especially in Asia and Africa, according to the latest edition of the ‘State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World’, published yesterday.

The report estimates that almost 690 million people went hungry in 2019 – up by 10 million from 2018, and by nearly 60 million in five years. “High costs and low affordability also mean billions cannot eat healthily or nutritiously. The hungry are most numerous in Asia, but expanding fastest in Africa,” says the report.

The heads of the five UN agencies who compiled the report warn that “five years after the world committed to end hunger, food insecurity and all forms of malnutrition, we are still off track to achieve this objective by 2030″.

According to the agencies report, Asia remains home to the greatest number of undernourished with 381 million people, followed by Africa which is second with 250 million people.

The global prevalence of undernourishment – or overall percentage of hungry people – has changed little at 8.9 percent, but the absolute numbers have been rising since 2014.

“This means that over the last five years, hunger has grown in step with the global population,” the report said.

Africa has the most as a percentage of the population, the UN report found, with nearly 20 per cent of the continent’s people undernourished. That compares to 8.3 per cent in Asia and 7.4 per cent in Latin America and the Caribbean, the report said.

However, Africa will be home to more than half of the world’s chronically hungry, by 2030, it said.

The report further stated that it is too soon to assess the full impact of the lockdowns and other containment measures across the world, as the report estimates that at a minimum, another 83 million people— and possibly as many as 132 million—may go hungry in 2020, due to the economic recession triggered by COVID-19 pandemic.

It also stressed upon overcoming hunger and malnutrition in all its forms is about more than securing enough food to survive. A key obstacle is the high cost of nutritious foods and the low affordability of healthy diets for vast numbers of families.

The report presents evidence that a healthy diet costs far more than USD 1.90 per day, the international poverty threshold. It puts the price of even the least expensive healthy diet at five times the price of filling stomachs with starch only.

UN agencies said a staggering 3 billion people or more can’t afford to acquire the food needed for a healthy diet. In sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia, this is the case for 57 percent of the population – though no region, including North America and Europe, is spared.

According to the report, in 2019, between a quarter and a third of children under five (191 million) were stunted or wasted – too short or too thin. Another 38 million under-fives were overweight. Among adults, meanwhile, obesity has become a global pandemic in its own right.

However, the heads of the five UN agencies behind the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World declare their commitment to support this momentous shift, ensuring that it unfolds in a sustainable way, for people and the planet.

The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World is the most authoritative global study tracking progress towards ending hunger and malnutrition. It is produced jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agriculture (IFAD), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

-RJV/ARK